Bush Gets Low Marks in Europe
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Gets Low Marks in Europe
Poll Finds Wide Disapproval of President's Conduct
of Foreign Policy
Citizens of the four largest West European countries disapprove of
President George W. Bush's handling of international policy by wide
margins, according to a new opinion survey.
Copyright © 2001 the International Herald Tribune
The Europeans object in particular to the U.S. president's positions
on global warming and missile defense. They express only slightly
more confidence in him than in President Vladimir Putin of Russia.
Overwhelming majorities of Europeans in the poll describe Mr. Bush
as a unilateralist, concerned only with U.S. interests. By margins
of 3 to 1 or more, they say he understands Europe less well than earlier
The poll, the first big multicountry opinion survey of reaction to
Mr. Bush's foreign policy, was conducted this month in Britain, France,
Germany and Italy by the International Herald Tribune in collaboration
with the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, a nonpartisan
U.S. polling group, and in association with the U.S. Council on Foreign
Relations. A poll including many of the same questions was conducted
in the United States, as well, to compare American and European responses.
The results demonstrate the substantial challenges facing the new
U.S. administration as it seeks to move ahead on thorny and complex
international issues such as environmental protection and arms control.
"This administration, and the Bush campaign that preceded it,
have been very explicit about pursuing American interests in a narrow
sense," said Dana Allin, a specialist in trans-Atlantic relations
at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. "One
shouldn't be surprised if European publics react badly to this kind
The survey did, however, find strong support in Europe - in fact,
stronger than in the United States - for Mr. Bush's decision to keep
peacekeeping troops in Bosnia and Kosovo. Europeans also backed his
efforts to promote free trade, and only about 1 in 5 of the European
respondents said the basic interests of Europe and the United States
had grown further apart.
"If there is a bright light in the poll results," said Andrew
Kohut, director of the Pew Center, "it is that most reject the
idea that the U.S. and Europe are drifting apart."
But the Europeans' confidence in the underlying trans-Atlantic relationship
served to underscore the dissatisfaction with the current U.S. president
himself. Disapproval of Mr. Bush was strongest in Germany and France,
where solid majorities disliked his performance on the international
The president fared least badly in Italy, but even there 46 percent
expressed disapproval, with 29 percent approving and the rest declining
In the United States, citizens supported Mr. Bush's international
policy by a margin of 45 percent to 32 percent.
The Europeans gave Mr. Bush drastically lower approval ratings than
they now give his predecessor, Bill Clinton, whose support among Europeans
started low but rose gradually during his presidency.
"Any new president is likely to have a rough treatment from European
allies who were just getting comfortable with the old one," Mr.
Allin said. Mr. Clinton, he noted, "was ideologically in tune
with the center-left governments that came to power in the major West
European capitals" during his term.
Six months into the Clinton presidency in 1993, Europeans were complaining
that America was showing no leadership, and that Mr. Clinton, the
former governor of the Southern state of Arkansas, was "goofy"
and undeserving of respect. A Tokyo Broadcasting poll in Japan found
that two in three Japanese said they mistrusted Mr. Clinton.
The IHT/Pew poll was conducted not long after Mr. Bush completed his
first six months in office, when he drew considerable criticism in
Europe from leaders and commentators for actions that some have said
showed arrogant disregard by the world's dominant superpower for allied
Perhaps most salient was Mr. Bush's decision to abandon the Kyoto
Protocol to decrease greenhouse gas emissions, a move that prompted
the highly unusual decision by 178 other countries to go ahead without
U.S. support. Controversy has erupted as well over Mr. Bush's plan
to construct anti-missile defenses, even if it means withdrawing from
the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, and over his decisions to
temporarily back off from confidence-building talks with North Korea
and to repudiate a Clinton administration decision to sign an accord
to establish an International Criminal Court. The new administration
also has withheld support for efforts to complete or enforce a biological
weapons treaty, an international ban on land mines, a small-arms control
pact, an anti-money-laundering effort and United Nations population
The Europeans surveyed not only objected to Mr. Bush's policies but
also questioned whether he wanted to work with them to solve common
problems. More than 7 in 10 of those surveyed in each European country
said that Mr. Bush acted solely based on U.S. interests in making
foreign policy decisions. Asked whether Mr. Bush took Europe into
account, fewer than 2 in 10 in any country said that he did. On specific
issues, Europeans disagreed with Mr. Bush's abandonment of the Kyoto
Protocol on greenhouse gases by a margin of about 8 to 1. That was
far greater than the 44 percent of Americans who disagreed with it.
Mr. Bush's support for the death penalty in the United States was
roundly criticized during his recent visits to Europe, and poll respondents
in Italy, Germany and France disapproved of his position by 2 to 1
or more. Britons were evenly split on the issue. On the bright side
for Mr. Bush, the Europeans approved by double-digit margins his free-trade
policies and decision to keep U.S. troops in the Balkans.
On missile defense, Germans, long among the most sensitive Europeans
to issues of arms control, resoundingly disapproved of Mr. Bush's
plan to develop an anti-missile system even if it meant withdrawing
from the ABM Treaty. The margin was 83 percent to 10 percent.
The opposition to the missile plan - which critics say could cause
instability in Europe and possibly a new arms race in Asia- was nearly
as large in Britain, France and Italy. "This certainly has to
be a matter of concern to the president," said Robert Jervis,
president of the American Political Science Association, "because
he needs cooperation and support from European leaders, and European
leaders are to some extent responsive to their public opinions."
Mr. Jervis, a professor of international politics at Columbia University,
has said that much of the world sees "the prime rogue state today"
as the United States.
Other analysts have been more sanguine, saying that any president's
first months in office are bound to be bumpy; that European leaders,
at least, have gradually warmed to Mr. Bush; and that he, like other
presidents, is likely to turn increasingly to international issues
and will have no choice but to seek foreign cooperation.
"If you look at the early European reactions to Carter, Reagan
and Clinton, it was all very simplistic," said Jackson Janes,
executive director of the American Institute for Contemporary German
Studies, at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. "The first
six months is a rush to judgment," he said.
Mr. Bush, moreover, retains substantial support at home on many international
"His favorable ratings on foreign policy are not bad among Americans.
They're slightly to the positive," said Steven Kull, director
of the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University
"By and large, the American public approves of Bush's handling
of foreign policy," said Mr. Kohut of the Pew Center.
By contrast, Europeans expressed little confidence in Mr. Bush. Only
2 in 10 French respondents and somewhat higher proportions of British
(30%) and Italians (33%) said that they had a fair degree of confidence,
or better, in his conduct of world affairs.
Germans gave Mr. Bush better marks, with just over half voicing at
least some confidence in his abilities. Europeans overall expressed
only a bit more confidence in Mr. Bush than in Mr. Putin of Russia.
Mr. Bush edged out Mr. Putin by margins of 4 to 10 percentage points
among respondents who expressed a fair degree of confidence in him,
or better, regarding world affairs.
On the negative side of the ledger, larger numbers of Britons and
Italians expressed "not too much" confidence or "none
at all" in Mr. Bush than in Mr. Putin.
The Europeans had significantly more confidence in their own national
leaders. For each - Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder of West Germany,
President Jacques Chirac of France, Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain
and Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of Italy - a majority of respondents
in his country had a fair amount or a great deal of confidence in
Analysts emphasized that one of the central features of Europeans'
dissatisfaction with Mr. Bush was the sense that the United States
was behaving in a unilateral way.
"The interest in which we act is a narrower American interest
than was true, I believe, of previous American administrations,"
said Mr. Jervis of Columbia University.
The Bush administration has insisted that it is fully engaged with
its partners. Rejecting the unilateralist label affixed by critics
abroad and in the Democratic Party at home, a senior State Department
official has described the Bush approach as "à la carte multilateralism."
A degree of unilateralism is natural for the world's only superpower,
Mr. Allin said. "But it is a problem for Bush if a crisis erupts
- in the Persian Gulf or Taiwan Strait - where European views and
interests are ambiguous," he said. "His unpopularity certainly
could impair his ability to line up allied support for U.S. action."
Is Mr. Bush in sync with the American public on questions of unilateralism?
"He is somewhat out of step with the American majority,"
Mr. Kull said. "In general, the public is very pro-multilateralist,
and tends to favor all kinds of international cooperation."